Cushions, Sir Menzies? £176.25?

…and a scant hour later than my doleful lament, I am spitting angry. Here’s what the Telegraph has to say:

Sir Menzies Campbell’s expenses claims show that he brought in the designer to fit out his small flat in Dolphin Square, a few hundred yards from the House of Commons.

He justified the claims by saying he had not used his full second home allowance in previous years.

The refurbishment claim under the Additional Costs Allowance included Roman blinds worth £528.75, five cushions costing £176.25, four bedside shelves totalling £1,420, as well as tie hangers, bulbs, a laundry basket, and extension cable costing £66.90.

Cost of designer refurb, nearly £10k. I suppose I should, before beating my own cushions to death in a fit of rage, differentiate here between “luxury items” and the basics required for fitting out a living space. The principle of the refurbishment in general, the laundry basket, bulbs, tie hangers, extension leads and the like, yes (though god knows what they were made out of to cost that much; Woolworths hadn’t gone bust at that point). But there’s just no way to describe the expenditure of nearly two hundred quid on four cushions other than taking the piss. Out of common sense, never mind the taxpayer.

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26 Comments

  • Keith Vaz claimed nearly £500 for cushions. Ming is, by comparison, a cheapskate. 😉

  • I was joking. Hence the ;).

  • My personal favourite:

    ‘Lembit Opik, the high-profile housing spokesman, charged taxpayers for a £40 court summons he received for the non-payment of his council tax. He will refund it.’

    If this is all we get then I think we’ve got off lightly – one minor MP probably a bit dodgy, leader using full allowance and ex-leader buying expensive scatter cushions.

    Of course there could be more to come, but at the moment I have to say I agree with Stephen Fry on this one (even if it is a good soap opera).

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8045040.stm

  • On the cushions:

    Firstly to clarify – I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than £5 on a cushion, and I’ve certainly never bought five. I get all of my furniture from freecycle or argos.

    But… if I’d been living in a flat for 15 years, wanted to impress the guests I might have round as party leader and had a wife as demanding as Elspeth… is spending £35 on a cushion so excessive that we should be spitting angry?

    True you can get a very decent cushion from John Lewis for £10, but you can also spend up to £67. For a selection see http://tiny.cc/KmXC9.

    Just think we should put it in perspective (and I’m not normally a Ming defender)!

  • I have been toying recently with becoming more involved in politics and in particular with joining the Lib Dems. OK the Lib Dems may not be in the same league as the Tories and Labour but tomorrow’s headlines will do nothing to assuage the public viewpoing that “they’re all at it”.

    I am hugely disappointed to see that the Lib Dems too are “at it”. I too am self employed and share Alix’s anger and frustration.

    MPs are employed by their constituents and the narrative in the media now is that fewer are going to vote and if they do will follow the Tebbit line and get on their bikes and vote for a minor party. If that is true lets just pray its Green and not UKIP or worse….

    Regards

  • Michael Andrewes 12th May '09 - 11:11pm

    The verdict on the Lib Dems from Jeremy Paxman and Michael Crick on Newsnight tonight about the Lib Dems is that it is “fairly small beer” and “not in the same league”.

    No flipping for example. Most of the other things seem minor.

    You can argue that the second homes allowance is too generous which is a fair point especially at an economic difficult time but I think it is a bit harsh on Menzies.

    The key point about Menzies is that he RENTS rather than owns his flat so no capital gains. Also £10,000 over 20 years is only £500 per year.

    I don’t shed many tears for politicians – they don’t have to do the job but I feel that they are damned whatever they do. If they had put up their salary by £40,000 (which would have given around £20k after tax) they would have been condemned. Equally they clealy have to a job in two places – their constituency and London and clearly if you compare it with another job done in one place on the same salary then there is an extra cost to MPs.

    I hope also that we don’t go back to the situation where we have relatively low pay for MPs – as that only allows one type of person to do the job and Lib Dems in wanting MPs from diverse backgrounds should particularly want to guard against that. I suspect also that an international comparison would show British MPs are in line or below other similar countries.

    Having said that I believe as a taxpayer that MP salary is now for me on the generous side.

  • Andrew Duffield 12th May '09 - 11:12pm

    I fear Andrew George is in deeper guano. That said, as Newsnight agreed, our scandals (trouser press, rocking chair, foreign phone calls and so on) are in a different – and seemingly lower – league.

    If Clegg can get some coverage for his (belated) “no-profit-from-second-homes” plan, we might yet emerge with a faint whiff of roses.

  • Alix Mortimer 12th May '09 - 11:30pm

    Andrew George is in the shit, as I shall pontificate tomorrow. And they’ve only released half the stuff they’ve got on us remember. Let’s not count chickens.

  • “[Ming] also claimed thousands of pounds for food over the summer recess when Parliament was not sitting, including £800 in September and October 2004, £1,000 between August and November 2005, £1,000 in July, August and September 2006 and £650 in July and August 2007.”

    How the hell do you spend £400 a month on food for one person? Thats £100 a week or £14 a day. Unless Golden Grahams actually are made of Gold I just don’t see it. (Please bear in mind MPs get paid c.£64k and have several pretty good and cheap eating places within Parliament)

    This allowance was always the worst example of MPs awarding themselves an effective secret pay rise and to take advantage of it in this way is just pure greed.

    Yet I can’t recall a single MP tabling a vote in Parliament to scrap it.

    Ming also failed to vote in any of the divisions on restricting FoI requests regarding MPs.

    Sorry Ming. “Not as corrupt as other MPs” just isn’t good enough.

  • “I spent more than that on food today in fact”

    You should work where I do. Blinding Pie, Mash & gravy for £1.95 🙂

    To reach the £400 a month limit you’d have to spend at that level everyday, including weekends though.

    And bear in mind that £100pw was an allowance ON TOP of salary.

    It’s getting that allowance on top of your salary that is the issue.

    I don’t think MPs should starve. Or only have to eat at Greggs. That’s why I’m happy that my taxes pay them a pretty decent salary. I don’t see why they need an extra £100 a week for food – and if they do I don’t see why it should be done on the quiet.

  • So he bought a couple of fancy cushions, big deal. And I second Andrew Hickey about the food bill – speaking as a Londoner, £14 a day isn’t even remotely excessive.

    I’m entitled to claim for food as a matter of course whenever I’m away on business. If I spent hundreds on champagne and caviar I’m sure I’d get a slap on the wrist, but no one would raise an eyebrow over a receipt for a decent restaurant.

    Yes, I’d have to eat at home on my own money and I agree that’s a legitimate point, but before pouring irrational scorn on Ming (or other MPs), at least acknowledge that it works exactly the same way in most jobs.

    And Andrew George gets visits from his daughter. Scandalous.

  • Cath

    My employer used to pay my food etc expenses. However they didn’t provide a second home when I was away from my usualy workplace.

    That’s the point here. If as taxpayers we pay for MPs to have second homes in London (which I have no objection to) then there food costs should be no higher then if they just had a job based at home.

    They are provided with a residence in which they can cook for themselves etc just as I did most nights after work. If they choose to eat out every night then fine, that’s a legitimate choice but they shouldn’t get a seperate allowance. And it certainly shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy.

  • Well you really didn’t expect Lady Elspeth to buy cushions from Tesco or Ikea did you? I mean John Lewis is only just acceptable…..
    And after the way you all treated Sir Menzies when it became obvious that David Cameron was going to wipe the floor, why shouldn’t she?

  • Hywel – I take the point, however I think the head of the standards body made a reasonable argument that they’re “away from their normal domestic arrangements”, and so inevitably incur extra food costs because they have to buy for one person rather than sharing grocery shopping with their family (economies of scale etc). Not to mention that when they’re in London they have even longer than usual working hours so might not have time to cook.

    In Ming’s case I suspect it’s more to do with the fact that he probably doesn’t cook for himself (Elspeth probably does it at home) and so when she’s not around he eats out. Now I could object to that from a feminist point of view, but not in terms of expenses.

    But I certainly agree that it shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy. The lack of transparency is my biggest gripe about this whole affair (moats and paddocks notwithstanding).

  • “so inevitably incur extra food costs because they have to buy for one person rather than sharing grocery shopping with their family (economies of scale etc).”

    This is at best marginal. I’m single and manage to benefit from most BOGOF type offers by using the freezer. I could imagine some waste from unused food when arrangements change at short notice. But £400 a month?

    Do Income Support etc levels go up if you are single?

    “In Ming’s case I suspect it’s more to do with the fact that he probably doesn’t cook for himself (Elspeth probably does it at home) and so when she’s not around he eats out.”

    A valid position when it comes to spending your own money – but should my taxes really go to subi=sidise people who can’t manage a tin-opener or microwave?

  • Hywel wrote:

    “How the hell do you spend £400 a month on food for one person? Thats £100 a week or £14 a day.”

    Very easily. Even from Tesco, a sandwich in the morning is unlikely to be less than £2. Then add the tea and the banana. And then there’s lunch in the canteen, again with tea. £6? And what about the evening meal? How much is an onion bhaji, two pappadoms, chicken dhansak with pilao rice and a couple of glasses of plonk (plus tea)? More like £20 per day, for the average MP with little time to cook and no wife around in London to do it for him.

    Unless, of course, MPs are expected to eat junk food and get ill.

    Sorry, this debate is descending into nit-picking. Let’s focus on the really flagrant abuses, shall we?

    BTW, how far does £64k per annum really go, once you’ve paid income tax, council tax, retiled the roof, replaced the boiler, had new tyres and cam-belt fitted, etc, etc?

  • A long career, a rented flat, a long gap between refurbishments, but when it comes it’s done in good (expensive) taste.

    Isn’t that just pure Ming? And why we almost all admire him, but some of us have reservations too ….

  • Most of us are expected to pay for our food out of our wages, whatever our lifestyle.

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